Saturday, 1 June 2019

"The Studio Album Collection" by JIM CROCE (March 2015 Edsel 7CD Box Set of Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...Photographs And Memories..."

South Philly singer-songwriter JIM CROCE was a strange one in Blighty. A massive star in the USA when his first solo album proper "You Don't Mess Around With Jim" hit the racks in May 1972 on ABC Records - within a year and a half he'd had two No. 1 singles and one number one album.

Yet in England (where most of his catalogue was carried by Vertigo Records) - his music meant little and saw bugger all chart action. Even a killer single like "You Don't Mess Around With Jim" with the equally impressive and touching ballad "Photographs And Memories" on the flipside (issued August 1972 on Philips 6000 069 in the UK) did zip despite the incredibly radio-friendly hooky A-side that American DJs sent all the way to the top (and back in the days when those 45 sales figures were huge).

Tragedy struck too. In late September 1973, Croce and other band mates were on their way from Louisiana to a gig in Sherman, Texas when their light aircraft crashed on take off killing all six inside (including the pilot). Croce was only 30 and it was already over. Yet his way with a melody, his raconteur wit and his great lyrical songs stayed with people and saw a Greatest Hits set grab an impressive No. 2 spot on the Stateside Rock LP charts in October 1974 (even then there was still nothing in the UK by way of chart action). And that's where this rather cool little CD Box set comes swaggering in.

UK released 16 March 2015 - "The Studio Album Collection" by JIM CROCE [featuring Ingrid Croce] on Edsel CROCEBOX01 (Barcode 5014797891036) is a 7CD Box Set with Card Repro LP sleeves and Booklet that plays out as follows:

Disc 1 "Facets", 26:39 minutes, 11 Tracks
1. Steel Rail Blues [Side 1]
2. Coal Tattoo
3. Texas Rodeo
4. Charley Green, Play That Slide Trombone
5. The Ballad Of Gunga Din
6. Hard Hearted Hannah (The Vamp From Savannah) [Side 2]
7. Sun Come Up
8. The Blizzard
9. Running Maggie
10. Until It's Time For Me To Go
11. Big Fat Woman
Tracks 1 to 11 are the privately financed and issued "Facets" LP - released August 1966 in the USA on CROCE-101 (No Label), 500 copies only, most sold by JC at gigs

Disc 2 "Jim And Ingrid Too", 17:39 minutes, 7 Tracks
1. Child Of Midnight
2. Marianne
3. Railroads And Riverboats
4. Hard Times Are Over
5. The Railroad Song
6. Maybe Tomorrow
7. Pa (Song For A Grandfather)
Seven Studio Outtakes first issued March 2004 in the USA as Disc 2 in the 2CD Deluxe Edition reissue of "Facets" (Shout! Factory D2K 34724 - Barcode 826663472424). No recording dates or musician credits provided then or now. The recordings are probably 1967 and 1968 and are far better recorded quality than the bootleg feel of the original 1966 privately made "Facets" LP

Disc 3 "Croce" by Jim and Ingrid Croce, 27:23 minutes, 11 Tracks
1. Age [Side 1]
2. Spin, Spin, Spin
3. I Am Who I Am
4. What Do People Do
5. Another Day, Another Town
6. Vespers
7. Big Wheel [Side 2]
8. Just Another Day
9. The Next Man I Marry
10. What The Hell
11. The Man That Is Me
Tracks 1 to 11 are the US LP "Croce" originally issued September 1969 on Capitol ST-315 in Stereo and credited to JIM and INGRID CROCE. It was reissued 1974 in the USA and Canada as "Another Day, Another Town" on Pickwick SPC-3332 in different LP artwork (railway tracks sleeve) with nine rearranged tracks (the two dropped were "The Next Man That I Marry" and "I Am Who I Am"). That 1974 LP variant can be sequenced by using the following CD tracks – Side 1: 5, 6, 7, 4 and 2 / Side 2: 1, 8, 10 and 11. It was reissued yet again by Pickwick with the same catalogue number and nine tracks sometime in 1976 (Pickwick SPC-3332), but again with different artwork (painting/cartoon side profile face sleeve).

Disc 4 "You Don't Mess Around With Jim", 33:12 minutes, 12 Tracks
1. You Don't Mess Around With Jim [Side 1]
2. Tomorrow's Gonna Be A Brighter Day
3. New York's Not My Home
4. Hard Time Losin' Man
5. Photographs And Memories
6. Walkin' Back To Georgia
7. Operator (That's Not The Way It Feels) [Side 2]
8. Time In A Bottle
9. Rapid Roy (The Stock Car Boy)
10. Box No. 10
11. A Long Time Ago
12. Hey Tomorrow
Tracks 1 to 12 are the US LP "You Don't Mess Around With Jim" issued May 1972 in the USA on ABC Records ABCX-756 - July 1972 in the UK on Vertigo Records 6360 700 (peaked at No. 1 on the US LP charts, didn't chart UK)

Disc 5 "Life And Times", 29:51 minutes, 11 Tracks
1. One Less Set Of Footsteps [Side 1]
2. Roller Derby Queen
3. Dreamin' Again
4. Careful Man
5. Alabama Rain
6. A Good Time Man Like Me Ain't Got No Business (Singin' The Blues)
7. Next Time, This Time [Side 2]
8. Bad, Bad Leroy Brown
9. These Dreams
10. Speedball Tucker
11. It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way
Tracks 1 to 11 are the LP "Life And Times" - released January 1973 in the USA on ABC Records ABCX-769 - June 1973 UK LP on Vertigo Records 6360 7011 (peaked at No. 7 on the US LP charts, didn't chart UK)

Disc 6 "I Got A Name" , 31:47 minutes, 11 Tracks
1. I Got A Name [Side 1]
2. Lover's Cross
3. Five Short Minutes
4. Age
5. Workin' At The Car Wash Blues
6. I'll Have To Say I Love You In A Song [Side 2]
7. Salon And Saloon
8. Thursday
9. Top Hat Bar And Grille
10. Recently
11. The Hard Way Every Time
Tracks 1 to 11 are the LP "I Got A Name" - released December 1973 in the USA on ABC Records ABCX-797 - April 1974 UK LP on Vertigo Records 6360 702 (peaked at No. 2 in the US LP charts, didn't chart UK)

Disc 7 "The Lost Recordings", 31:46 minutes, 12 Tracks
1. You Don't Mess Around With Jim
2. New York's Not My Home
3. Tomorrow's Gonna Be A Brighter Day
5. Walkin' Back To Georgia
6. Operator
7. Time In A Bottle
8. Seems Like Such A Long Time Ago
9. Mississippi Lady
10. These Dreams
11. A Good Time Man Like Me Ain't Got No Business (Singin' The Blues)
12. Lover's Cross
Tracks 1 to 12 are early home studio recordings for the 1972 LP "You Don't Mess Around With Jim". Edsel have reissued that 1972 album as a standalone CD in 2015 on Edsel EDSA 5025 (Barcode 740155502539) with the above 12 tracks - 1972 Home Demo Recordings for the "You Don't Mess Around With jim" Album added on as Bonuses.

Each of the 7CDs listed above are in individual singular card sleeves that repro the front and rear of their original vinyl albums - excepting of course the two specially created compilations - "Jim and Ingrid Too" and "The Lost Recordings" (both with newly made up artwork). All seven slide into a hard card slipcase box sided by a very tastefully laid out 36-page accompanying booklet featuring lyrics, recording credits (if known) and a new essay on Croce's life and legacy by ALAN ROBINSON written in December 2014. As with so many Edsel reissues, although the titles are licensed from the majors, there is precious little by way of Remastering credits except that their long-time Audio Engineer - PHIL KINRADE – has mastered this compilation.

The "Facets" album from 1966 reflects its privately pressed and recorded origins and has what can generously be described as bootleg quality - good but never great. The rest are thankfully a whole lot better - especially the core trio of solo LPs "You Don't Mess Around With Jim", "Life And Times" and the album that was recorded before he was tragically taken and released after his passing "I Got A Name". And I'd swear they're the Rhino Remasters. All the instruments are clear and clean. The second CD called "Jim & Ingrid Too" (Disc 2 in the Shout! Factory 2004 Deluxe Edition reissue of "Facets") has shockingly good audio for all of its seven cuts. But that 2004 Shout! Factory reissue unfortunately gives absolutely no indication of when, where or who played on these songs (not elaborated on here either). But given their audio, it might be enough to surmise that they were recorded circa 1967 to 1968 in a professional studio – put down no doubt before the husband and wife "Croce" set on Capitol Records in 1969. Although neither the booklet nor the rear sleeve of the other rarities set here (CD7 entitled "The Lost Recordings") gives any info on those 12 tracks - they're 1972 home demos for the "You Don't Mess Around With Jim" album and their audio quality reflects that. The real studio albums however sound great.

The first bare bones album is OK, the outtakes second CD far, far better despite its short playing time, but whilst the husband and wife Sonny & Cher routine of "Croce" has some pretty and funny moments – mostly it comes over as twee 60ts and is terribly dated (Ingrid hasn’t the best of voices either). The leap to May 1972 and the first solo album proper "You Don't Mess Around With Jim" on ABC Records in terms of audio and quality songs is enormous. It's as if Croce had been crafting and saving up for years because the songs on "You Don't Mess Around With Jim" are fantastic. While the radio-grabber title track gets all the hooky plaudits, to this day there are people who can’t listen to the emotive ballad "Time In A Bottle" without getting soppy. It’s a truly affecting song and the great audio feels like that of Steve Hoffman when DCC reissued and remastered his material. Terry Cashman and Tommy West (trading as Cashman and West on ABC Records in the USA and Probe Records in the UK) aided and abetted on all three of the proper solo albums and with smashes like "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown", "Operator (That's Not The Way It Feels)", "One Less Set Of Footsteps" and "I'll Have To Say I Love You In A Song)"– Croce found himself up there with the likes of Don McLean, Gordon Lightfoot and even James Taylor as being beloved by the public and admired by music critics at one and the same time.

This is a nice set and a reminder of his sad loss – a legacy that shows (some say) that Jim Croce might have taken on the singer-songwriter big boys had his wit and charm been given a chance. In the meantime, try to seek this out rather elusive box set and enjoy those musical photographs of simpler times...

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